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Enjoy Insta-Magic From The Nation’s Best Fine Dining Establishments


Trip Advisor just dropped its sixth annual Traveler’s Choice Awards, the highest honor the site bestows upon hotels, restaurants, destinations, beaches, museums, landmarks, airlines, vacation rentals, and attractions. Currently, these honors stand alone as the only travel industry awards that result from millions of opinions and reviews from travelers worldwide. And, given the sway that Trip Advisor has over its fanbase, these awards are highly coveted.

Winners are determined by both reviews and ratings left on the Trip Advisor site, which reaches over 32 million people monthly. But, that doesn’t mean that they simply hand the top honors to the people with the best numbers. The substance of reviews is taken into account in a big way.

This year, 399 restaurants out of the 4.3 million worldwide made the cut for the fine dining “best of” list. We have listed the top ten below. If you follow the fine dining scene, delight in exceptional cuisine, or watch Top Chef, you will know at least a few of these names. The surprise may be the inclusion of some mid-sized cities. Charleston and Santa Fe are often overlooked in lists of this kind. That’s where crowd-sourcing helps: Professional reviewers have a value, and we appreciate their experience and discerning tastes. But, the popular vote is important, too, no matter what Anthony Bourdain says.

10. Merriman’s (Kapalua, Hawaii)

This is the signature establishment of Peter Merriman, a pioneer of Hawaiian regional cuisine. That means diners are supporting local farmers and ranchers, as well as the local economy by eating at his spot. The menu highlights smart sourcing, with ingredients like Big Island chevre, Hirabara Farms baby fennel, Otani Farms green beans, and Kahua Ranch lamb, raised in accordance with the restaurant’s specifications. People are urged to order wok-charred ahi, which originated at Merriman’s. It’s seared beautifully on the outside and a pure sashimi on the inside. Or, go for the prime bone-in New York steak grilled to order.

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9. Restaurant Gary Danko (San Francisco, California)

This restaurant has been a mandatory dining experience among the shot callers of San Francisco for a good while now. It sits at the intersection of local, seasonal California ingredients and classic French cooking. You can opt for the chef’s tasting menu or take over the proceedings and design your own one, three, four, or five prix-fixe. There are some twists on the menu, but the classics are where it’s at. If you aren’t finishing your meal with a silky chocolate soufflé paired with a rich vanilla bean crème anglaise you are a fool and a savage.

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First Dinner in San Francisco!

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8. Mama’s Fish House (Paia, Hawaii)

Hawaii back in the house! You have to swoon at the palm grove and hidden cove on the restaurant’s private beach. But, that may score slightly less cool points than a menu, with fish so fresh that the name of the fisherman who caught it that morning is on the menu. No lie. And they know exactly how to cook that fresh fish to perfection. If you want to experience a real treat, opt for Lau Lau, a Polynesian dish that bakes fish or chicken with pork in a ti leaf package awash in coconut milk and topical spices.

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7. Geronimo (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

If you find a person in Santa Fe who doesn’t point to Geronimo’s as the premiere romantic restaurant in the city, they are a tourist. Locals live for the menu, wine selection, and ambiance. It’s housed in a home built by Geronimo Lopez in 1756, meaning a lot of adobe, kiva fireplaces, and wood beams. You can’t go wrong with the Fiery Sweet Chile and Honey Grilled Mexican White Prawns, which mix bold flavor with sweetness, amping both up. Plus, if you are one of those people who lives for a celebrity sighting, this is one of the best spots in New Mexico to spot a famous person.

6. Halls Chophouse (Charleston, SC)

Founded by the Hall family in 2009, this steak house serves some of the best beef in the country. They attribute that to their exclusive use of meat from Allen Brothers of Chicago. Everything is cut from certified USDA prime and choice beef. But, it likely has something to do with their impeccable service, too. Servers will talk you through every cut of meat and bring examples out to guarantee what you order is exactly what you want. They also make vegan and vegetarian dishes at special request.

5. Chef and the Farmer (Kinston, North Carolina)

This restaurant is tied very closely to the owner, Chef Vivian Howard, who came up in famed New York establishments like Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50 and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market, before bouncing home to start her own spot. She works very hard to highlight the food traditions of the area, sourcing 70 percent of the ingredients from within 60 miles of the restaurant. That means, you have the chance to eat things so seasonal that they are only on the menu for three weeks. You wanna get real rural, but remain a foodie? Chow down on the ground pork sausage stuffed into a cured, boiled, and crisped hog’s intestine. It’s served with peas and watermelon rind relish.

4. Alinea (Chicago, Illinois)

This isn’t a restaurant in the traditional sense as much as it is a production. Diners need to book early for a seating that involves a three-hour, 20-course piece of culinary theater. There is no menu to choose from. Instead, you simply eat what is presented before receiving a menu at the close of the meal — proof of the experience for your foodie scrapbook. Servers are famously attentive and will smoothly walk you through everything. The original and clever riffs on modernist cuisine have earned Alinea three Michelin stars for a reason.

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FOH First Meeting Friday, 2:30pm (sharp)

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3. Charleston Grill (Charleston, South Carolina)

Charleston’s food scene is clearly hopping right now. The menu at this restaurant is divided into four categories. The Cosmopolitan items are globally inspired and lean into the exotic and imaginative. The Southern options take regional standards and gives them a contemporary interpretation. People looking for simple dishes that focus on clean, light flavors will favor the Pure items. And, things get decadent in the Lush category, which is about substantial and satisfying dishes that come out of the French tradition. Guests are encouraged to mix-and-match between sections.

2. Victoria & Albert’s (Orlando, Florida)

If you don’t expect fine dining at Walt Disney World, you haven’t been to this restaurant at the park’s resort. They create modern American cuisine using ingredients like truffles flown in from Italy, beef sourced in Japan, North Florida oysters, and poulet rouge from North Carolina. It’s like the menu has as many world travelers as the dining room does. If you wanna get hellza fancy, you can eat in the kitchen, where your party will be served a personalized 10- or 11-course meal that is designed around likes and dislikes you identify during your consultation with the executive chef. Warning: These meals have to be set up at least 180-days before the reservation date.

1. Daniel (New York City, New York)

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This renowned restaurant is the two-star Michelin baby of chef and restauranteur Daniel Baloud, who you know from just about every morning talk show, nightly talk show, and English-speaking iteration of Top Chef. But, it’s Baloud’s food, not his fame, that distinguishes him. If you are interested in contemporary French cuisine inspired by the seasons, and you want to eat it among lavish neo classical architecture while drinking world class wines, look no further. Plus, the service is renowned for being the best in the city. Don’t miss out on finishing a meal of flaked cod with za’atar by ordering mint-scented strawberries and chocolate coolant.

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